Mrs Isobel Morgan was the heroine of my girlhood. A sole parent, she raised her daughter and a magnificent garden of flowers and vegetables at 160 Vigor Brown Street, Napier, and taught primary school full-time. Hugely interested in music, art, different cultures and languages as well as nature, she had a thriving classroom with aquarium tanks, growing bulbs, art work of every description and always had music playing — we had a composer of the week, every week. Outside we were taught to observer hatching chrysalises and collect pods of kowhai seeds. Each boy and girl in Mrs Morgan’s class learned basic embroidery stitches, (I still have the gym bag I made, embroidered with my name in chain stitch which I made as an 8-year-old under her supervision).
Thanks to her, I am still able to recite at least 15 poems from memory, use a soldering iron, make a tray out of burnt matchsticks, and do some basic botanical drawing. As well as teaching me to sing and play the recorder, she also taught us how all how to waltz, dance the Gay Gordons and do the Polka Mazurka. In addition she was a stalwart member of the Forest & Bird Society, and used to invite us along on Saturday morning trips. With her holding my hand, I learned the Maori names of plants, their medicinal uses, and the names of all the native birds we saw. My prize for attainment in natural science was a copy of Elaine Power’s Shore Birds of New Zealand, but the real prize is the book plate on the flyleaf with my name in Mrs Morgan’s best copperplate calligraphy. Her control of a classroom was magical, and every child respected her, just as she saw something special in every child, and nurtured it. For years after I left primary school, I would cycle back to see her in her classroom, where I often had to wait my turn as she was showing some other child how to make or do something. I found her heroic because she was so independent, and practical, and seemed to be able to master anything she tried. She showed me that patience, self-discipline and self-reliance are the key to understanding everything.